The Disaster Artist (2017) Movie Review

James Franco’s The Disaster Artist could have been the extension of a joke, an acknowledgment of the irony that makes Tommy Wiseau’s historical miscalculation The Room such an audience favorite. That would have been the easy route, and it would have made for a less compelling film.


Instead, The Disaster Artist takes an earnest approach. It aims to convince us that it is the drive of Wiseau’s vision which is truly integral to the success of The Room. Franco portrays the, to put it mildly, eccentric actor-writer-director Wiseau as he and newfound actor friend Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) pursue the dream of Hollywood stardom.

The Room is a well-known cult film, a so-bad-its-good film on the same level of Plan 9 From Outer Space with the theater-going experience of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Even if you have not seen The Room, The Disaster Artist makes it clear that on-set antics from Wiseau led to it being such a disaster. But The Disaster Artist does not laugh at Wiseau. It reveres him.

We first get an acknowledgment of this reverence from the film’s opening, in which industry professionals gush over Wiseau’s film. It is an awkward way to begin a movie like this, and it functions more as a throwaway moment than as a prologue.

When the plot of the film really begins, we are given Greg, a nervous young man waiting for his chance to break in to the movie business, and Wiseau, a fearless and frantic actor who can barely speak fluent English and makes up for it by screaming his emotions during scenes. Naturally, Greg is drawn to Wiseau’s uninhibited acting style, and they begin a working relationship.

The friendship between Greg and Wiseau is the emotional crux of the film, and in the early acts of the film it is the driving force. The blind ambition of the duo is an inspiring thing to behold, especially with the knowledge of what their ambition gets them.

Once the film shifts gears to focusing on the production of The Room, the tone becomes harder to balance. There are laugh lines as scenes attempt to recreate the disastrous shoot, but sometimes the scenes come off as a checklist of moments. Remember that sex scene? And the scene where the mother announces her terminal illness (which is never brought up again in the film)? Remember “Oh hi, Mark!”? The Disaster Artist takes time to show how these surreal moments were put to film, but it is a series of scenes that are less fluid than the first half of the film.

Within this montage of moments, it becomes harder to rally for Wiseau. At times, he appears a monster. While this is true-to-life as dictated by Sestero in his book, it doesn’t help Franco’s case as he attempts to inspire us with Wiseau’s creative forcefulness. This disconnect is most easily recognized in the depiction of one of The Room‘s infamous sex scenes. The scene, as depicted in The Disaster Artist, is uncomfortable, as Wiseau berates the actress for not being sexy enough. Still, the scene wants to have the same humor as other scenes, with Seth Rogen’s script supervisor character commenting on Wiseau’s sexual technique.

Beyond these scenes that take place during the lengthy film shoot, the film’s finale, which takes place at the premiere of The Room, feels like a final forced attempt at wrapping up the film’s central argument. As the audience laughs at the screen, Wiseau slinks off. Sestero comes to give him a rousing pep talk, to explain that the film is doing something that Hitchcock could never accomplish. The audience may not be reacting as Wiseau wants, but they are enjoying the film.

It is clear that Franco has put his all into The Disaster Artist. The cast and crew recreate scenes from The Room to a tee, and Franco’s portrayal of Wiseau yields an uncanny resemblance. The entire cast, in fact, does a good job emulating their characters.

It does feel, however, that The Disaster Artist loses itself in this emulation. The funny moments are, for the most part, funny. The earnest moments are earnest. The relationship between Sestero and Wiseau is handled very well. But the film never quite convinces us of its message. As the film ends, we are given side-by-side comparisons between The Room and the recreations done for The Disaster Artist, and it is hard not to wonder why one would not simply watch The Room.


The Disaster Artist: B


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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)


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